Chicago Cubs: Looking back at moving on from Jeff Samardzija

May 25, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) throws the ball against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) throws the ball against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

With a four-game series against the Giants concluded, let’s take a look a guy the Chicago Cubs let go. A decision that has benefited the Cubs more than Shark.

In July 2014, the Chicago Cubs found themselves in the midst of another sub-par season, but moving in a direction that signaled brighter days ahead. With that in-mind, Theo Epstein decided to send 40 percent of the starting rotation to the Oakland Athletics.

On July 5, the Cubs traded Jason Hammel and hometown native Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics for Billy McKinney, Addison Russell, Dan Straily and cash.

This isn’t about the trade the Cubs made though. Only one of those three players are currently with the Cubs and has turned into a great asset for the Cubs. This is about the Cubs’ decision not to re-sign Samardzija after he became a free agent.

His Cubs Years

Chicago drafted Samardzija in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. After choosing baseball over football, he quickly became a fan-favorite player. He spent seven seasons with the Cubs. Unfortunately for him, most of the years were spent during the top-to-bottom rebuild effort.

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Nicknamed “Shark”, Samardzija spent seven years with Cubs. Initially starting out in the bullpen, Shark hit his stride in 2011, going 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA in 75 appearances out of the bullpen.

At the conclusion of that season, the Cubs brought in Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. They decided to move Samardzija to the rotation – a move many fans questioned at the time. In his first full season, Samardzija finished 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA in 28 starts. While most wouldn’t characterize the move as a raging success, the right-hander did not pitch poorly. He pitched worse in 2013 before the Cubs decided to trade him to Oakland in the middle of a resurgent 2014 campaign.

Bouncing around

Most Cubs fans will remember that Samardzija spent one year on the South Side, where he was 11-13 with a career-high 4.96 ERA in 32 starts. At the end of that 2015 season, Samardzija wanted big money, but struggled to find it. The White Sox couldn’t afford to keep him. The Cubs had interest in bringing him back, but not for the ‘ace’-type money he wanted.

Finally, in December 2015, Samardzija signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. Many thought this was a lofty amount to commit to a player with a record under .500 and a ERA close to 4.00 for his career. The Giants expressed optimism though. Experts said the results would improve when he was pitching on a better team. Samardzija wanted to go to a team where he can win.

Now 32, Samardzija is off to the worst start of his career. After Thursday afternoon’s loss to the Cubs, he is now 1-6 with a 4.50 ERA. He has never beaten his former team. To make matters worse, he had to watch his former team win its first World Series just two years after he left. Oh, and his Giants faced the Cubs in the 1st round of the NLDS. A series where Samardzija was knocked out after two innings in Game 2 after allowing four runs.

It’s Not All Bad Though

On a positive note, Samardzija is still a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. He eats innings (four straight 200+ inning seasons) and doesn’t walk many. A guy like him is definitely someone a guy the Cubs would want to have heading into 2018, where they could lose 40% of their rotation.

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The difference is he is on the wrong side of 30, has a career ERA of 4.07 and is 17 games under .500 for his career. His contract pays out a whopping $19.8 million in each of the next three seasons. While the free agent market demands more money with each passing year, an aging starter doesn’t seem like a good buy.

For $20 million a year, the Cubs have better options at their disposal.

Looks like the Theo and the Cubs made the right decision. With the way things are looking, by the end of the five years, Samardzija will still have not won anything. His former team, however, could be well in the midst of another Chicago dynasty.